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University scientists named Australian Academy of Science Fellows

22 May 2017
How nature and school teachers inspired Australia’s best scientists

Three University of Sydney academics are among 21 leading scientists to be elected to the Australian Academy of Science this year.

Professor Branka Vucetic from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technologies and Professor Dietmar Müller from the Faculty of Science were honoured for their outstanding contributions to science. Dr Evans Lagudah, an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Science and a Chief Research Scientist at the CSIRO's agriculture department, was also named a 2017 fellow.

The group was elected by their Academy peers, following a rigorous evaluation process.

Academy of Science President, Professor Andrew Holmes, congratulated the new Fellows for making significant and lasting impacts in their scientific disciplines.

“What is delightful about our latest group of new Fellows is that many were inspired to become scientists at an early age,” Professor Holmes said.

Professor Dietmar Müller gathered billion-year old fossilised rocks along Baltic Sea beaches as a child, while Professor Branka Vucetic became fascinated with radio-engineering when her science teacher posed a question that she couldn’t answer at the time.

“These stories remind us why it is crucial that as a nation we continue to work together to inspire our next generation of scientists, which is part of our core mission at the Academy,” Professor Holmes said.

The University of Sydney’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Duncan Ivision congratulated the new Fellows.

“I am delighted that the outstanding work of Professor Vucetic, Professor Müller and Dr Lagudah has been recognised through their election to the Australian Academy of Science. Being recognised by your peers in this way is one of the greatest honours a scientist can receive. Through their achievements and leadership, they embody the aspirations we have for research excellence at the University of Sydney," Professor Ivison said.

Using the ‘Internet of Things’ to improve everyday life   

Professor Branka Vucetic – ARC Laureate Fellow and Director of the Centre of Excellence in Telecommunications in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering – is honoured for her work in wireless communication.

Professor Vucetic is an is an internationally recognised expert in coding theory and her research has created new technologies for smart phones, cellular networks and mobile internet, which are now essential for everyday life, business and education. Recently, Professor Vucetic’s team has been developing a new 5G network that supports the trillions of interconnected devices predicted to be in use in the coming few years.

“I am inspired by challenging real-world problems, which motivate me to develop novel methodologies and applications. Most people think that science and engineering are boring and that only artists can be creative. Engineers are actually very creative people who solve problems and challenges of our society,” Professor Vucetic said. “I feel greatly honoured and humbled to be elected as a Fellow of the Academy.”

‘Rock star’ scholar inspired by Earth science   

Professor Dietmar Müller, from the School of Geosciences, is a world-leading authority on geophysics – the study of the interior of the Earth.

Professor Müller leads the EarthByte research group, who are pursuing open innovation, involving the collaborative development of open-source software as well as global digital data sets made available under a creative commons license.

With the help of seismic data and sophisticated computer simulations, Professor Müller’s team from the University of Sydney and the University of Potsdam uncovered a distinct two-phase separation process: at first, continents gradually inch apart as a hot, jagged rift is etched into the landscape. The findings were published last July in the journal Nature and reported in the New York Times.

That research came just over a month after a paper co-authored by Professor Müller and others from his EarthByte Group – which explained why there are just a few large tectonic plates and many tiny plates – was highlighted on the cover of Nature – a total of three Nature papers in as many months.

“Understanding the Earth’s geological research is key to understanding our future,” Professor Müller said. “I feel extremely honoured and thrilled to be elected into the Academy’s fellowships. Especially because Australia is my adopted homeland. I feel that the Academy will give me more opportunities to make contributions to earths sciences in Australia and particularly to foster the careers of young scientists.”

Dr Evans Lagudah

Image courtesy: Australian Academy of Sciences

Helping farmers grow a better future

In addition to his role as a Chief Research Scientist at CSIRO, Dr Evans Lagudah is an Adjunct Professor in the University of Sydney’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Dr Lagudah’s election as a Fellow honours his internationally recognised contributions to the study of plant disease resistance genes, including research into the cloning of wheat resistance genes and the identification and utilisation of molecular markers for disease resistance breeding. His research has ensured the rapid translation of new molecular discoveries into practical agriculture in the global grains industry.

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